The Magic Strangeness On Chen Zhiguang’s Sculpture
I have got some ideas about the basic concepts and patterns with the works of many artists since I have been engaged in the Chinese contemporary art circle and in contact with them when planning exhibitions. Despite the fact that there are so many types of exhibitions, artists and works, there are no longer incentive, surprises and excitement of those of 1990s. Have the basic impulse and passion of these artists been more or less subjected to the strategies or the increasingly heated art market? In the face of the phenomenon that these artists are too good at marketing their works and holding exhibitions, I do not know how to answer this question, but feel that it is not so right, or perhaps I am getting old, just a bit complaining about the present situation and missing the good old days. But when I saw the works of Chen Zhiguang, the artist from Zhangzhou Fujian, it brought me back to the visual experience of the 1990s.
His art now seems unable to be classified, at least not in the so-called urban fashion art system. It possesses both the broken passion of that period, but doesn’t have the phenomenon of flattering favor of the public that can be widely found in the present art circle. It is simple, direct and sincere. This reminds me of the time when I studied art history, my view on the value and significance of the folk arts and folk customs. As the emerging art trend and style pattern in metropolis, these art works are gradually penetrating and spreading out to affect other towns and cities. When the artistic fashion changes rapidly in metropolis, the local arts can serve as a reference system to be referred to when tracing and studying urban culture of that period, because they retained much aesthetic sense and tastes of that period with a regional cultural integration and mixture. They were also filled with folk vitality. Chen Zhiguang’s art can be interpreted and appreciated in an alternative vision, although it lacks present popular evaluation criteria.
Chen Zhiguang’s art would give viewers the feeling of mystery and strangeness. Ants are always the physical image favored in Chen Zhiguang’s art works. In nature, ants are featured with the division of labor, tireless foraging, creating anthills and endless flourishing, showing the natural forces beyond individuals. The reason why Chen Zhiguang constantly uses the image of ants is to compare the toilful mankind to ants’ endless working, or perhaps to the traditional symbolic meaning of the Foolish Old Man, who removed the mountains to show the determination to win victory and the courage to surmount every difficulty. For example, Chen Zhiguang created a number of stainless steel ants moving around, wiggling among the ruins of the workshop and the rusty machinery in the factory that used to be magnificent, or lying prone on the abandoned heavy trucks and boilers. The viewers are presented with a broken picture of ruins and debris, dark and distorted, which is the direct experience of the survival in the environment he once lived. It not only contains colors of heaviness, lingering, regret and sadness, but also reflects the conflicts and collisions during the process of era changing in China.
China is losing an old order. Can she gain a new world? In this sense, his works are the farewell and elegy in the future to those of the past that will soon disappear. For instance, he personalizes the ants, which wear ancient Chinese helmets, just like the terra cottas who wear dark gauze cap, holding knives and swords or sitting up straight in the chair of classical Chinese, or putting on a fierce look around the columns. Their magic and eccentric profiling reminds us of the scenes in our classical literature “Journey to the West”, which highlights the visual shocking tension. What is more interesting lies in the choice of materials, which are all the “second hand material” of industrial civilization–stainless steel metal forging or metal painting installation. The coldness of such artificial materials and natural attributes of ants mutual mix and overlap, inducing all kinds of absurd and confusion between history and fiction, realism and games.
It can be seen that Chen Zhiguang’s intention is to adopt the image of a critical army of ants and at the same time endow the content and form of his works with maximum effect, which has complex symbolism, symbolizing the swelling material needs in the modern society through serial strange image of ants. He even shifts and forcefully combines the gap between the two eras, thus the visual image would shift from the unreal dimension into a realistic level to express his deep concern for the current social reality. Perhaps the incredible aspect of his type of artistic words also lies in his return to the folk tradition and interests of daily life. However, with his surrealistic imagination, his art blows at the too “elegant” cultural people in urban life. Just like the cultural situation we would face in the process of social transformation in this era, Chen Zhiguang, as an artist, examines and transfers his art to reflect his unlimited imagination and questioning position toward the social reality.